Cabin fever? Now is the perfect time to create a photoshoot at home. Reframe your time indoors as an opportunity to master the home shoot and build your stock portfolio.
When I found out that the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo created many of her masterpieces in her bedroom, it radically changed my idea about the function of “home.” Home is often associated with safety, comfort, relaxation, and, lately, isolation — but it can also be the ideal space for experimentation and creativity.
So, I consulted three photographers who specialize in indoor photoshoots to hear their tips for getting to know your home more intimately. The results? These are the tips you need to create beautiful photos that will help diversify your stock portfolio when shooting at home.
Tip #1 Study Your Space
You know your home, but do you know exactly how the light looks in your bedroom in the afternoon? Where the blinds cast shadows early in the morning? You may be surprised at how drastically light alters the look of different areas of your home depending on the weather and time of day. That’s why Texas family photographer Mae Burke gives the students she mentors a daily light journal.
“Throughout the day, hourly if possible, I have them take photos in a room to see how the light changes and make note of what settings produce images they like best or what modifications needed to be made in camera to achieve those images,” explains Burke. “Repeating the process through several types of weather scenarios, over several seasons, should give the photographer confidence to enter any room, in any light, and produce images they are excited about.”
If you have a dark home without much natural light, you can supplement with artificial light sources.
“Even ordinary options like table lamps and flashlights can work,” says Russia-based family photographer Natalia Lebedinskaia, who recommends using lenses adaptable for low-light situations like the Canon 50 1.2. “I often photograph baptisms, and those almost always take place with insufficient lighting in temples where no flash can be used.”
Tip #2 Get Creative With Props and Lenses
Even if your decor isn’t Pinterest-worthy, you can still create gorgeous photos. Try using a 50mm or 85mm lens to isolate your subject from the background — a good skill to have in your photographer’s toolkit regardless of location. “It’s one of the best creative skills I learned when I was shooting weddings,” says Portland-based lifestyle photographer Nicole Mason. “There are always messy rooms and poorly lit spaces. Find where the light is coming in or even close the blinds a bit. The shadows will cover the mess or unwanted items.”
Use a chair for a tripod if you don’t have one, experiment with using different blankets as backdrops, or shoot through the leaves of a houseplant to create layers and depth. Household items like tin foil and plastic wrap can create interesting effects when held close to your lens. According to Burke, all you really need is one solid-colored corner near a window: “Almost everyone has that!”
Tip #3 Take Advantage of Comfort and Privacy
There’s a reason so many family and engagement shoots happen in the home: it’s where people feel safe, comfortable, and can shed inhibitions they may have about posing somewhere more public. But the same is true for the photographer! This is the time to try shooting something totally out of your comfort zone or, alternatively, to lean into the feelings you love most about “home.”
“The idea that my children, and the children of the women who hire me, will have true, beautiful documentation of their lives at home is what gets me excited about shooting indoors,” says Burke, who says her work was inspired by her mother-in-law, who was completely immobile and non-communicative by the age of 65 due to early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. “There is a chance my husband and our children could suffer from memory loss, and I want to make sure that they remember — that they know — how loved they were day in and day out by the people in our home.”
Create images that celebrate the unique details of home
Lebedinskaia notes that her subjects often feel calmer and less hurried in their homes, which often reflect their personalities better than an outdoor location could. “Each house is unique and families leave with not only portraits but also portraits of what constantly surrounds them,” she says. “After many, many years, they will look at these photos and rejoice. ‘Remember, we had such wallpapers!’ or ‘This table is now in the grandchildren’s nursery.’”
Tip #4 Document Slice-of-Life Moments
Shooting at home may seem mundane, but there are endless opportunities to document slice-of-life moments that are hard to replicate in a more controlled or styled setting. Shoot the entire process of baking a loaf of sourdough bread. Use a telephoto lens on a tripod to capture every species of bird that visits your feeder. Take a cue from landscape photographer Erin Sullivan and shoot miniature versions of your favorite places, or heed Mason’s advice and start a daily photo challenge for yourself.
“For the fellas, document that beard growth,” laughs Burke. “Pick a space near a window every day and try to keep the same amount of your face in the frame, and create a manly timelapse of your facial hair evolution over your self-quarantine.”
Tip #5 Diversify Your Stock Portfolio
Consider this as an opportunity to shoot new categories of content to help build your stock portfolio. Identify a few subjects or topics you could shoot in your home and create strong photo sets for each, with a variety of crops and angles. A good stock photo captures content, but a great stock photo captures emotion and ends up looking and feeling more authentic.
Check out Shutterstock’s 2020 Creative Trends report and browse popular stock image searches each month to see what buyers are looking for, then consider how you could shoot something to fit a category that interests you in your home. Just remember to fill out a property release form if your image is created on private property or on public property that features distinctive private property.
“Having the time to observe and think about the way I want to shoot something and the ability to do it in a quiet, uninterrupted space is so important,” says Mason. “It’s when I’m able to create some of my most authentic and meaningful work.”
If you’re looking for more photo project ideas, check out this guide from FeatureShoots on more photo projects you can do from home.
Cover image by Nicole Mason.
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